Read Falling for You Online

Authors: Jill Mansell

Falling for You (4 page)

Chapter 5

Marcella worked as a cleaner at the Taylor-Trents' house, which was how Maddy knew that Kate Taylor-Trent would have arrived home by now. It seemed almost incredible to imagine that they had once been best friends, playing happily together and sharing everything, right up until the age of eleven.

Then Kate had been sent away to boarding school—Maddy vividly remembered their tearful parting—and that had been the beginning of the end. When Kate returned from Ridgelow Hall after her first term there, she had invited along her new best friend, a confident twelve-year-old named Alicia whose father was a newspaper magnate. Alicia had resisted Maddy's efforts to join in with them, and Kate, anxious to impress Alicia, had begun to slavishly follow her lead. Finally, Maddy had overheard Alicia drawling, “She wears those awful glasses, her father drives a taxi for a living, and her stepmother's
black
. Daddy would have a fit if he knew I was associating with someone like that.” Bursting into the Taylor-Trents' vast kitchen, Maddy had given Alicia a resounding slap before racing out of the house. For the rest of the afternoon, she'd expected Kate to come over to the cottage and apologize. She hadn't, and Maddy hadn't set eyes on her for the rest of the school vacation.

After that, Kate only had time for her bitchy, rich school friends. When they did encounter Maddy in the town, they smirked and snickered behind her back but always loud enough for her to hear. Glossy haired and immaculately turned out themselves—teenage It Girls in the making—they made fun of Maddy's clothes, the clanking great braces on her teeth, her general gawkiness, and, of course, her National Health specs. The rest of the time, they talked loudly about their parents' wealth, the exotic vacations they were taking this year, and how ghastly it must be to be poor
and
knobbly kneed.

Oh, how they'd laughed at her knees.

Maddy hadn't let the experience mentally scar her for life. Kate and her snobbish new friends may have found it amusing to sneer at her and her friends, but it had been just as enjoyable making fun of them in return, ruthlessly mimicking their la-di-da voices and loudly discussing whose daddy had the biggest helicopter or the plushest yacht.

This had carried on until Kate had left Ridgelow Hall. From then on, throughout her time at finishing school in Switzerland, followed by university, then the move to New York, their paths hadn't crossed. Very occasionally Kate paid fleeting visits home but never ventured into the town. More often, Estelle and Oliver flew out to visit her or to meet up with her for long vacations in glamorous locations across the globe.

Then had come news of Kate's accident, and Maddy hadn't known what to think. Vacationing out in the Hamptons with a group of friends, Kate had crashed the car she was driving and had sustained horrific injuries to her face and neck. Estelle, naturally enough, had been distraught. Oliver had organized the best possible medical care and lined the pockets of the world's most-skilled surgeons. Maddy had been horrified and ashamed to discover that although it was a terrible,
terrible
thing to have happened to anyone, a small, subversive part of her couldn't help picturing Kate's beautiful smirking face and thinking,
Serves her
right
.

Now, almost a year on and despite the best efforts of the surgeons, Kate Taylor-Trent was arriving back in Ashcombe with a face that bore the still very visible scars of the accident. If she saw her—and sooner or later they were bound to bump into each other—Maddy wondered if she would have to be nice to Kate, the one-time friend and latter-day enemy she hadn't set eyes on in over eight years. Despite the countless hurtful names Kate had once called her, Maddy didn't suppose she'd be allowed to retaliate now. When you were twenty-six, it was probably one of those things that was frowned upon. Even if you did sometimes still feel fourteen years old inside.

* * *

The wedding was a huge success, despite Tiff's and Sophie's refusals to kiss each other when Marcella declared, “You may now kiss the bride,” on the grounds that kissing was,
yeugh,
gross.

Now, having spent the evening watching a celebratory
Rugrats
video, the bride and groom were upstairs in Sophie's bunk bed, fast asleep. Sleeping over at each other's houses two or three times a week suited their single parents perfectly, and when both Juliet and Jake wanted to go out on the same night, like tonight, Marcella was always happy to babysit. (Not that anyone was allowed to call it that. As Sophie had loftily pointed out, “We aren't babies. You just look after us.”)

Looking in on them, Maddy tucked her niece's spindly brown leg back under the duvet and carefully removed a cross-dressed Action Man (wearing one of Barbie's tutus) from under Tiff's neck. She headed downstairs and found Marcella stretched across the sofa eating jalapeno-chili chips and watching a documentary on BBC 2. Since meeting Vincenzo d'Agostini three years earlier and moving into his house up on Holly Hill, Marcella had found new—and much deserved—happiness. Everyone adored Vince and declared that they were perfect together. With a pang, Maddy saw that the documentary was about foster parents. Marcella's inability to have children of her own had been a source of sorrow to all of them; even now, at the age of forty-three, she still harbored powerful maternal urges.

“I could do that.” Marcella pointed at the TV screen with a chip. “D'you think they'd let me, or am I too old and decrepit?”

Maddy leaned over the back of the sofa and gave her mother a big hug. “You'd be brilliant, but don't just rush off and come back with one as a surprise. It's the kind of thing you need to talk about first.”

“That was different. Bean was only a puppy.” Marcella recognized the dig. “There wasn't time to discuss it. The man said if I didn't take her, it'd be curtains for Bean. So what else could I do?”

“Ooh, I don't know, how about wave a placard saying, ‘Go on, tell me a heartrending story. I'm a total pushover'?”

“But look at her!” Marcella reached for Bean, who was curled up beside her, and swung the little dog into the air. “Even if the man was lying to me, how could I have said no? If you'd been there, you wouldn't have been able to either.”

“I wouldn't have paid him fifty pounds,” said Maddy, because Marcella truly was the queen of gullibility. The traveler who had sold Bean to her on a busy street corner in the center of Bath surely hadn't been able to believe his luck.

“Are you saying Bean wasn't worth it? Oh, sweetheart, don't listen! Cover your ears! Anyway,” Marcella went on, folding the puppy's long, floppy ears lovingly under its jaw, “isn't it time you were gone? If this program's going to make me cry, I'd rather do it in peace.”

Maddy imagined telling her mother that the man she'd met on Saturday night and liked so much was, in fact, Kerr McKinnon. Marcella might not burst into tears, but the torrent of abuse that would pour forth would be spectacular.

Surely it was kinder not to let her know.

* * *

The Fallen Angel was busier than usual that Monday evening. Joining Jake and Juliet at the bar, Maddy was struck once again by the beauty of the pair of them, Jake so lean and blond and tanned, like a surfer, next to Juliet with her bewitching dark hair and eyes, lily-white skin, and voluptuous figure. They made the perfect couple visually, got on like a house on fire, and adored each other's children, yet there wasn't so much as a flicker of chemistry between the two of them. It was such a waste, but there was nothing anyone could do about it; they simply didn't fancy each other—
ooh, drink
.

“Thanks.” Maddy sat down next to Juliet, who had thrust the glass of Fitou into her hand. “No sign of the other team yet?”

Monday night was darts night, and this evening they were up against the Red Fox from the neighboring village of Claverham.

“They're always late. So did you tell Marcella yet?” Jake waved his empty lager bottle at Nuala, behind the bar. “Another one of these, darling, thanks. Well?” He returned his attention to Maddy, one eyebrow raised.

“No, I just couldn't. That smells fantastic.” Keen to change the subject, Maddy lifted her head as one of the waitresses emerged from the kitchen with an array of plates balanced on each arm. To the right of the bar was the restaurant area, where several tables were already occupied.

“Coward,” retorted Jake.

Juliet gave him a prod. “Leave her alone. I don't see why Maddy has to tell her at all. Even if Marcella does find out that this chap's moved back to Bath, she could always pretend she didn't know he had.”

Maddy nodded. That made sense, actually. OK, so maybe it was a little underhand, but if she was only doing it in Marcella's best interests…

Anyway, why had it suddenly gone so quiet in here? As the conversation died, Maddy swiveled around on her stool, realizing that someone had just walked into the pub behind her.

Oh shit, please don't let it be Kerr McKinnon.

It wasn't, although the new arrival had caused just as much of a stir. Although stirs were supposed to be noisy, weren't they? And this was the opposite of noisy—more of an antistir.

Along with everyone else, Maddy couldn't help gazing at Kate Taylor-Trent. She would have done it anyway, even if Kate's accident hadn't happened; it had been eight years since she'd last seen her, after all. But the livid scars were there for all to see, despite the baseball cap pulled down over her forehead. As Kate followed her mother through the pub to the restaurant area, she gazed determinedly ahead, refusing to catch anyone's eye.

Under his breath, Jake murmured, “It's like that bit in
High
Noon
.”

Apart from a few of the locals acknowledging Estelle with a nod and a mumbled, “Evening, Mrs. Taylor-Trent,” nobody else was speaking. Desperate to break the embarrassing silence, Maddy burst out laughing as if she'd just heard a brilliant joke, then realized too late that she sounded as if she was laughing at Kate. Hurrying to cover the faux pas, she said brightly, “Juliet, you should have seen them; they were so
funny
,” and promptly realized that this only made her sound more guilty.

For good measure, Kate chose this moment to look back over her shoulder and stare directly at her. Feeling dreadful and prickling all over with embarrassment, Maddy pretended she hadn't noticed and took a huge glug of Fitou.

“Who were so funny?” asked Juliet, puzzled.

Highly entertained, Jake ruffled Maddy's hair and said, “Nobody. Well, apart from my sister.”

“Tiff and Sophie, I was talking about.” Maddy decided to go for the bluff and pretend she hadn't just been blurting out any old rubbish. “They looked so sweet tonight in their bunk beds. That's all I meant. Sophie insisted on sleeping in her wedding dress.”

“And you're still blushing,” Jake couldn't resist pointing out.

“Oh, shut up.” Seeing Kate had caused her to regress. She was feeling stupid and inadequate all over again, and now to cap it all, she was redder than her glass of red wine.
Right, stop it,
enough.

Nuala Stratton leaned across the bar, agog. “Is that her? Is that the one who was always so horrid to you?”

As if Estelle Taylor-Trent was likely to bring any number of half-stunning, half-scarred twenty-six-year-olds into the restaurant for dinner.

“Come on,” Jake said cheerfully. “Time we hit the dartboard before the opposition gets here. We could all do with the practice.”

* * *

Kate hated every moment. Everyone was pretending not to look at her. They had ordered from the menu, and now she longed for a cigarette, but the dining section was nonsmoking and she definitely wasn't going to venture through to the bar to be ogled at close quarters.

“Hungry, darling?” Valiantly attempting to pretend there was nothing wrong, that this was just a normal, happy mother-daughter outing, Estelle was struggling to keep the conversation going. “The new chef's much better than the old one. Daddy and I had a fantastic bouillabaisse last time we were in.”

Kate pointedly examined the saltcellar. In desperation, her mother gazed around at the other tables.

“Ooh, those mussels look nice.”

How could mussels
look
nice? Mussels were mussels, for crying out loud, nothing more than a heap of black, shiny shells.

“Sweetheart, trust me, everything's going to be fine,” Estelle whispered. “Just give them a few days to get used to you and—”

“Oh, please, Mum, don't treat me like a kid,” Kate hissed back. “Everything
isn't
going to be fine. How can it, with me looking like this? I've had almost a year to get used to it,” she went on bitterly, “and it hasn't happened yet.”

“But, darling, it's only a few little scars! How you look on the outside isn't important; you're still you… Oh, Kate, where are you going? Sweetheart,
come back
.”

Chapter 6

It was no good. She couldn't do this. Feeling horribly trapped, Kate stood up so fast she almost tipped her chair over. If she was going to cry, she had to get out of here before it happened. But pushing back through the crowded bar—past the dart teams limbering up for their match—would be too much of an ordeal.

Glimpsing the corridor to the right, Kate abruptly veered toward it. The ladies' bathroom was through a door on the left. Locking herself into the stall with trembling hands, she collapsed onto the toilet seat lid and took several deep breaths, tilting her head back and willing the tears to go back down.

Thankfully it worked. When it was safe to return her head to the upright position, Kate snapped open her Prada bag, took out her cigarettes, and lit one. This was what she was reduced to now: hiding in the bathroom, smoking a Marlboro Light, hideously aware that out in the bar, people were laughing and talking about her, and there wasn't a damn thing she could do to stop it.

All her life she'd adored being the center of attention. But not like this.

Exhaling furiously, Kate pictured Maddy Harvey, whom until tonight she hadn't seen for eight years. The change in her was amazing. Maddy had been the original ugly duckling. If Estelle hadn't kept her up-to-date with developments, she might not have recognized her. But having been told what to expect, she had known at once that the sparky blond at the bar was Maddy. She'd heard the burst of laughter too after she and Estelle had made their way through the bar. And when they'd been seated at their table, she'd found herself covertly glancing over at her. Being prepared for an improvement was one thing, but this much of a transformation had come as a major shock. Maddy may only have been wearing a little black tank top and black trousers, but the color enhanced her bouncing, layered white-blond hair and golden tan. As she drank and joked with the visiting dart team, she exuded down-to-earth glamour and the kind of easy confidence that—

Oh hell.

Kate shrank back instinctively as the door handle to the bathroom began to jiggle. She stared at it, willing the intruder to give up and leave her in peace.

The jiggling stopped, then started up again, accompanied by the creak of wood as someone leaned against the door
. Go away
, thought Kate, wondering if it was her mother come to see how she was.
Just
go
away
.

“Hello?” called a voice that clearly didn't belong to Estelle. “Is anyone in there?”

Drawing hard on her Marlboro, Kate rose to her feet, lifted the wooden toilet seat, and dropped the rest of the cigarette down the toilet. Then she flushed it away.

“Oh, sorry!” the voice sang out. “Sometimes you think there's someone in there and it's just that the door's gotten stuck.”

A shiver went down the back of Kate's neck. Was that Maddy's voice? Swiveling around, she peered up in desperation at the tiny window, but it was no bigger than a cat flap. You might just be able to squeeze a loaf of bread through there, but a grown woman? Forget it.

So she was trapped. The only way out was through the door. Meanwhile, the more she thought about it, the more convinced she became that the voice on the other side belonged to Maddy Harvey.

Bracing herself, Kate unlocked the door.

And there she was, leaning against the sink, looking even more spectacular close up, those emerald-green eyes no longer hidden behind geeky spectacles.

“Oh. Hi.” Maddy hesitated. “Sorry about the door. It gets stuck sometimes.”

Kate reached the second door, the one that would lead her back out into the corridor.

“And I'm sorry about your…um, accident,” Maddy went on awkwardly.

Bitch. I'll bet you are.

“Yes.” Kate fixed her with a look of utter derision. “I heard you laughing.”

Maddy flinched as if she'd been slapped. “Oh, but I wasn't laughing at—”

* * *

“You,” Maddy insisted to Jake and Juliet when she rejoined them. “I was about to say, ‘I wasn't laughing at you,' but she just slammed the door shut in my face! God, it was awful. I was only trying to be polite. And then when I came out of the bathroom, they were sitting there eating their meals and I wondered if I should go over and explain, but what if she'd started causing a massive scene in front of everyone, chucked a bowl of mussels over me or something?” Maddy shuddered. “I just couldn't bring myself to do it, and now everything's more awkward than ever.”

“So?” Jake was, typically, unconcerned. “Don't let it bother you. Scars or no scars, she's always been a bitch. Anyway, we've got a match to play.”

“And someone here has his eye on you.” Juliet gave Maddy a nudge. “You could be about to hook up.”

The last time they'd played the team from the Red Fox, Maddy had been charmed by their captain, a burly, rugby-player type named Ed. Throughout the evening they had flirted happily with each other, until last orders were called and Ed had regretfully confided that he'd love to take her out sometime, but he had a girlfriend. Which was sweet, of course, and showed he was the faithful, trustworthy type, but at the same time not what she'd wanted to hear.

Maddy glanced across at Ed now, throwing darts and pretending he didn't know he was being watched.

“He's already seeing someone.”

“Wrong. He sidled over when you were in the bathroom and asked if you were available.” Juliet looked smug. “Then he casually mentioned that he'd finished with his girlfriend. I think you've definitely made a conquest.”

Maddy wished she could feel more enthusiastic. Before, she had been quite taken with Ed, but somehow this news no longer filled her with delight. It was like seeing a great pair of Timberlands and not being able to afford them, then walking into the shop two months later with your birthday money in your purse, realizing that the yearning to own them had evaporated and that, actually, you'd much prefer a pair of fantastically sleek stiletto-heeled boots.

Oh God, was she seriously comparing Kerr McKinnon to a pair of boots?

“Come on. You're miles away.” Jake pushed her forward. “You're next.”

Needless to say, they lost the match. Not because Maddy's mind wasn't on the job, but because they invariably lost. They were the worst team in the league, the upside being that their opponents were always delighted to play them.

“Bad luck,” said Ed, joining Maddy at the bar where she was sitting with Juliet.

Spotting the glint of intent in his eye, Juliet slid off her stool and murmured, “Back in a minute.”

For a single woman with no love life of her own, Juliet was an incorrigible matchmaker. Whenever Maddy tried to interest her in a man, she simply pulled a face and said easily, “He's nice, but not my type.”

“Hi.” Now that his way was clear, Ed said casually, “Did you hear I broke up with my girlfriend?”

“Well, yes. You told Juliet. She told me. I'm so sorry,” said Maddy. “You must be devastated.”

He looked offended. “No, no! I finished with
her
. Anyway, the thing is, I wondered what you were doing this weekend, Friday or Saturday night. Maybe we could go out somewhere.”

“Oh, what a shame,” Maddy said sorrowfully. “I can't. I have to babysit my niece.”

“Both nights?”

“Both nights. Sorry.” Aware that Jake was listening behind her, she prayed he wouldn't give her a dig in the ribs and say embarrassingly, “That's not true.”

But Jake waited until Juliet was back from the bathroom and Ed had slunk off in defeat before saying, “Hey, Juliet, fancy a wild weekend in Paris?”

“Why?”

“Maddy's babysitting Sophie on Friday and Saturday, so she may as well have Tiff too. That leaves you and me free to do whatever we want—brilliant restaurants, loads to drink,
fabulous
sex…”

“Thanks.” Juliet gave his arm a consoling squeeze. “But you're not my type.”

Behind the bar, vigorously polishing glasses, Nuala said with frustration, “You always say that. But what kind of man do you go for? I mean, what was Tiff's dad like?”

Since Juliet had spent the last five years not elaborating on the subject of Tiff's father, Maddy didn't get her hopes up.

True to form, Juliet simply smiled her dazzling, enigmatic smile.

“Oh, he was definitely my type. But he was married.”

“Enemy on the move, enemy on the move,” Jake murmured in Maddy's ear. “Approaching at three o'clock…draw your weapons…”

Flushing, Maddy saw that Kate and Estelle had finished their meal and were heading back through the bar.

“She isn't my enemy.”

“She may not be
your
enemy,” Jake whispered wickedly, “but I think you could be hers.”

As first Estelle then Kate made their way past them, Kate shot Maddy a look of disdain.

Oh, great.
Maddy turned away.

“Blimey,” Nuala exclaimed as they swept out. “Did you see her
face
?”

The door hadn't completely closed. It swung back open. Kate glared ferociously at Nuala, spat, “At least I'm not
fat
,” and slammed out again.

Visibly shaken, Nuala clutched the Guinness pump for support.

“That's not fair! She took it
completely
the wrong way. I didn't mean ‘did you see the ugly scars on her face.' I meant ‘did you see the look on her face'! And now she's called me fat,” wailed Nuala, who was ultrasensitive about her weight.

Feeling both guilty and relieved that it had happened to Nuala too, Maddy said, “Welcome to the club.”

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